Posted Apr 21 2011 10:07AM
PHILADELPHIA -- Their time will come. Their chance to shine, sharpen their skills, earn big money, push for All-Star teams and restore pride in the Sixers isn't far in the distance. Even the notoriously fickle Philly fans are willing to wait.
We're talking about Lou Williams, Thad Young and Evan Turner. The kids. The Broad Street Babies. But it wasn't too long ago when this conversation was about Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala. And how's that turning out?
The Sixers are in an 0-2 crater in their series with the Heat not entirely because the games go well past the bedtime of half the roster, but because the once-future of the team now seems so passé. This is supposed to be when Brand and Iggy lead by example, show the way and carry their weight as well as they do their paychecks. So why does it feel like they are weighing the Sixers down?
You could confine their highlight in this series to the first quarter of Game 1, when Brand had his jumper working. There's been little-to-nothing since then, only grim evidence of a major investment gone sour.
Brand scored three points in Game 2, his only basket courtesy of a goaltending call. He hardly looked like the player who once carried the Clippers into the West semifinals.
Iguodala has 10 points in the series. Remember when he averaged almost 20 ppg three seasons ago? It's quite disheartening for the Sixers when their two best -- and most veteran -- players are looking lost in the playoffs, when your best and most veteran players are supposed to show up.
"We definitely need 'Dre and E.B. to get their average," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "We need 30 points out of those guys because our bench has been good."
The Sixers are leaning on two players designated as the franchise's foundation in the post-Allen Iverson era. Here's the difference, though: Iverson, for all the trouble he caused, at least took the Sixers to the 2001 NBA Finals. Iguodala and Brand are still trying to win a playoff game together.
After trading Iverson in 2006, the Sixers embarked on an ambitious facelift and identity change. Gone was a rebellious, high-reward/high-maintenance superstar, and it was replaced by a team built on balance. By 2008, the Sixers had taken the favored Pistons to six games in the first round and anxiously awaited the future with open arms and wallets.
However, Iguodala became devalued almost before the ink dried on his six-year, $80 million deal. Big contracts then were the rage; a year earlier, Rashard Lewis signed with Orlando for $118 million, and he lacked the same all-around skills. So the Sixers figured they were getting a bargain. How could they not? Iguodala averaged 19.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 4.8 apg in 2007-08, numbers that were nearly equaled the next season. Plus, his defense was respectable.
The Sixers lured Brand from Clipperland with a five-year, $80 million deal and almost overnight, both forward positions seemed secure for years. Even though Brand was coming off Achilles surgery, his career numbers (20.3 ppg and 10.2 rpg) and his age (29) were positives.
"I won't let anybody down," Brand said at the time.
He then dislocated his shoulder one month into his first season in Philly, needed surgery, then had philosophical differences with then-coach Eddie Jordan. Brand has responded much better to Collins and finished the season strong, averaging 18.4 ppg in the final month. But he's being badly outplayed by Chris Bosh, a player who gets far more grief from the basketball public than Brand.
Interestingly, the Sixers have tried numerous times to trade Iguodala, whose production is declining, in order to free up time for younger players. Meanwhile, they can't get anything for Brand unless it's an equally bad contract. With Brand signed for two more years and Iguodala for three, the Sixers are stuck with players in decline as they awkwardly transition to youngsters on the rise.
It's too bad for Iguodala, saddled with the thankless job of guarding both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade this series. Same for Brand, a solid citizen who carries much respect in the locker room. Mostly, it's too bad for the Sixers, who spent good money on the right players, only to see things go so wrong with them here in the playoffs.
"We all have to do a better job," said Iguodala, and he's correct; it will take a collective effort to send this series back to Miami.
But for a team too young to know anything about winning in April, two players in particular must show the Sixers how to grow up.
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